“There are two of them. One of them is already here. And the other one has yet to arrive.”
Not said with any hint of mystery. Like she was reading some numbers off a spreadsheet. She squinted at the cards one more time before she gathered them back up and put them in the little paper box. The same one they’d been originally packaged in. She didn’t even let me write down which of them she had drawn. The only thing I could remember was The Tower. I wasn’t even sure what part of my question that applied to. I just knew the card meant trouble.
No candles were lit. No incense was burning. In fact, I could not help but notice that one of the lightbulbs in the industrial fixture above our heads was on the fritz. She didn’t seem to be aware. Or she didn’t care. It did bring an odd atmosphere. I kept catching the blinking out of the corner of my eye. A sort of strobe effect.
“Two men? There are two men in my life? Or, I guess, there will be?”
I was trying to make sense. Sure, Andy was probably the one who was already here. He’s been “here” for the last three years of my life. There will be a reprieve, someone else. And that man will replace Andy, make me forget all about him. That’s what I thought. How frightening. But that’s what the reading was supposed to answer.
I should have asked about something else. Like whether or not I should delete my screenplays buried deep within Google Drive. Give up completely. I was too scared of that answer. I should give up.
I should try to get Andy to propose to me again. Before the second guy shows up. Andy has to propose in person this time. Not in an email he sends me on an airplane after drinking three whiskey sodas. Mrs. Morton cleared her throat.
“This is not about men. There is more to life than men. This is about you.”
This woman would be great at poker. Not even an eyebrow raise.
She held a little white electronic box out to me and I tapped my credit card. Eighty dollars I didn’t have down the drain on some nut job who couldn’t stick to the prompt. I smiled politely, trying to mask my dissatisfaction. One of her bracelets caught on the sleeve of my sweater when she started tapping me on the shoulder to get up. A run in the fabric occurred. I didn’t say anything. The sweater looked horrid on me, so it was not big deal. She rushed me out the door like she had other people waiting. In the hallway there was no one. The chairs looked dusty. Upholstered with ugly abstract patterns which screamed of the mid 1990s.
Even though she’d swept up the cards in a rush, Mrs. Morton had managed to take up forty five minutes of my lunch break. I tried to power walk, like Janet taught me to do. I didn’t feel much faster, but I knew how dumb I would look if I started running considering my long skirt. A shortcut through Elizabeth Park would save me a few minutes. There weren’t many people and the ground wasn’t too wet. The creepy old man with the corgi who always asked for hugs wasn’t even out.
I cut up to the street. Between the third and fourth step entrance to the park a woman burst from the shrubs onto the sidewalk. Like she had fallen from some great height. She got up quickly, as though she expected no one to notice what had happened to her. And as she made a beeline for me, I realized despite her small stature and polished outfit, she might not care at all. She might be crazy. And I thought I recognized her. She was in my face and holding my hand. I, who don’t like to be touched, resisted the urge to push her off and away.
Her hand felt clammy, like mine always is. I have perpetually sticky hands. And her face, it was my face, or something close to it. She was a little taller. And her hair was my hair but my hair from last month. The awful haircut I’d gotten from The Blue Grotto. I almost started sobbing in the chair when Emily turned me around to show me the absolute hack job she had given my bangs. Only in the last few days had they grown out enough to be pinned aside. The bangs were hideous. It made this stranger look like me playing a medieval peasant in a low budget period piece.
She reached in her pocket while giving me a big smile that called out victory. But then she frowned. One of those frowns that makes me self conscious about my fine lines.
“It isn’t here. The note I’m supposed to give you. I don’t know what happened.”
She reached in the pockets of her jeans and her jacket again. She reached down her shirt and felt the inside of her bra. Oftentimes I will stash my house key there if I’m out on a run. Sometimes my debit card for safe keeping in sketchy settings. She came up with nothing.
It was completely improbable Andy would have sent me a note. He had never so much as given me flowers. Still I was clinging. Hopefully stupid as a dog.
“Surely you can paraphrase the note. Who sent you to give it to me? Just tell me the main idea.”
She began to clear her throat and rub the bridge of her nose. I rubbed mine too, waiting for her to respond.
“I can’t remember. Where I came from, it kind of screws with your memory. That’s why I wrote it down. That’s why I put it right here in my pocket. And now it’s gone.”
“What do you mean, where you came from? Did you escape an institution or something?”
She said it with the same hiss I always do. She went back into the park. She crumpled onto a bench on the edge of the greenery and didn’t look at me. She looked so distraught and adorable. And a little pathetic, she needed someone. I sat down and tried to sound gentle.
“I’m sure that whatever you’ve forgotten is not too important. We can figure it out later. Do you want to tell me how I can help you?”
“I’m you. I came to warn myself, you, about something. It’s very important. It could be life and death. I don’t know.”
I started laughing under my breath. She glared at me. Uncanny. It was like looking in a mirror meeting her eyes.
“Don’t laugh. You know you believe me. You just came from a crack pot Tarot reader’s house. You're insane. And I haven’t forgotten everything. I was told other things. For example, I know Andy is going to text you in a few minutes and ask you to have dinner tonight.”
Andy was in New York working on a documentary about public libraries. He wasn't supposed to be back until July.
She knew a lot about me. Looked a lot like me. And she had followed me, been stalking me for some time. That is what I decided. Did she really look like me? Or had she studied me for so long and altered herself so much that she transformed herself? I didn’t ask. I wasn’t afraid of her, more stunned. And it was a little flattering. Someone wanting so much to be me despite my absolute failure of an existence. But I did have an okay job, a sometimes pretty face, and a very well to do boyfriend. Even if he was hot and cold.
We sat. I checked the time on my phone. A message came in.
“Surprise. I’m back for a few days. Dinner?”
I looked all around the park hoping to catch the sight of his midnight colored hair and serious smile. The park was empty.
I like to respond to Andy right away. So he knows I’m paying attention. I told him to pick a spot and used three pink hearts. He wouldn’t respond until four or five pm. I know Andy. This girl on the other hand, not so much. She was looking over my shoulder now, flabbergasted at my response to him.
“You can’t have dinner with him. I’m only here for eight hours. What if I remember my warning while you’re at dinner?”
I didn’t respond. We sat and watched a man on the other side of the park. He was trying to wrestle a dead squirrel from his border collie’s mouth. The dog ran circles around him.
“Can I walk with you back to the office? That might convince you. And it will give me some time to try to remember.”
She got up without waiting for me. Walked a few steps ahead of me in the correct direction. Her steps were very close together. I looked at her shoes. The old Barney’s Warehouse heels, my best. I had ruined them a week ago at my friend Sarah’s wedding. Mostly because they are five inches tall and I usually wear flats.
“Stop and let me see the bottom of your shoe. The right one.”
She halted and spun around. On the bottom of her right sole was the shape. A crystal drawn in red sharpie.
It was me. She was me. I turned cold. We would not be going to the office.
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
My coffee from the morning was coughed up into a trash can on the corner of Main and Connecticut street. She stood next to me with her arms folded. When I stood back up she was crying.
“I wish I could remember. It’s so me. To lose the note. I always do things like this!”
Typical dramatics. But somehow I didn’t feel the urge to join her in self loathing. I put my hands on either of her shoulders.
“Everyone makes mistakes. You can’t beat yourself, I mean me, up. The fact you were even able to get here in the first place is incredible. You must have worked hard, hmm?”
She nodded. Sniffled, and gave one of our tightest smiles. Our lips disappear and we don’t show any teeth. It’s quite charming I can say now having seen it in real time.
“I bet I’ll remember. Before nine I’ll remember.”
I asked her if she felt better. She asked me if I could please eat a few of the breath mints she knew I was carrying in my purse. And that I needed to never wear the skirt I had on again because it made me look fat. I can be very mean to myself.
We went to the apartment and tried to jog her memory. The afternoon was very boring. Only a month had passed since she left where she had been and arrived here. There weren’t many updates to provide. No major changes.
“Did you start your application for the Sundance Labs?”
I croaked out a no and a little groan.
“It’s for the best. We’d never get in. It’s pointless. When’s the deadline again?”
“The fifteenth. The day after tomorrow.”
She scoffed and gave me a sideways glance while looking through the closet. She was in search of something I could put on that would look more flattering on me.
This perturbed me quite a bit. Who was she to judge me, herself, this way? What I was wearing, who I was seeing, my clothes, my ambitions. She grumbled while she flipped through my disorganized t-shirts.
“I can’t believe we still have this. What kind of loser can’t get over her ex from literally five years ago? You have to throw it out. It’s pathetic. You’re too old to act like this. Much too old."
That little sneer of a glare. It was me, alright. Depressed me, gray me, the me that repels and dissolves the things around her.
I had never seen myself before. Not really. Looking in a mirror only goes so far. I didn’t want to be her. Not a little bit. Not at all. I didn’t care what she had to warn me about. I wanted her to go.
I wanted her to be different. To think about herself. She held up my snakeskin printed bodysuit in the mirror against her skin.
“Ugh, how disgusting. Why did I ever buy this? Like I can pull off not wearing a bra. Yuck.”
I snatched the fabric out of her hands.
“Go in the bathroom and put it on!”
She was startled. It is very unlike me to actually yell. Especially in anger. I’ve been told many times that anger is an emotion I tend to avoid like the plague. She went into the bathroom and started changing.
I pulled the notorious strawberry dress from the rack. A size too small for me (so I told myself) I’d kept for ten years in hopes of one day being able to pull off wearing. I changed into it and made her zip me up. It fit like a glove. Like it always had. I had told myself I looked ugly in it every time.
“Look at me!”
I turned her to face me. She looked into my eyes, very confused. We stood there without saying anything. I smiled, she smiled. The wall between us came down.
“I look great.”
She went back to the mirror.
“I don’t think this haircut is so bad. Besides, it’ll grow out.”
Less than forty eight hours until the deadline. And five hours until she would need to leave. Two heads are better than one.
I texted Andy and canceled the dinner. I explained myself in multiple paragraphs. He send a single letter back,
Uninterested, like I knew he'd be. But that's not my fault.
I had work to do. With myself I sat and worked on the application. In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but hope. Maybe she would return and begin working at once. I could submit a polished application if that were the case. And then I’d get accepted. And my dreams could come true. And on the first day of the workshop I’d wear my strawberry printed dress.
At eight fifty five she got off the couch and motioned for me to stand up. We embraced. It was weird hugging myself. But nice. She whispered,
“Life's too short. Don’t sell yourself short. If you do that, you’ll end up short.”
She left. And I felt sad but triumphant. I felt like I had arrived.